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Monday, June 18, 2007

ON AND OFF THE FIELD, JULIEN A CERTIFIED HOMETOWN HIT

Brockton Rox pay tribute to former Warrior with "Roxers" Bobblehead Night

BROCKTON, Mass. -- Combining a rare blend of speed, power and versatility, Eugene Julien proved himself to be a special player for the Eastern Connecticut State University baseball program in the early part of this decade.

 

For the past three years, Julien has proven to be a special person in his Brockton, Massachusetts hometown as a member of the wildly-popular Brockton Rox of the Can Am independent baseball league.

Those special qualities were never more evident  than Saturday night (June 16), when a Campanelli Stadium capacity crowd of just under 5,000 was treated to Eugene Julien “Roxers” Bobblehead Night.

A “hometown hero” in a city which has always embraced its heroes, Julien played four seasons of baseball at Brockton High School before moving on to a record-breaking career with the Warriors, where he was a two-time All-New England selection at two different positions (outfield and second base) and a three-time all-Little East Conference choice at three different positions (outfield, second base, and shortstop).

Born in Caracas, Venezuela 25 years ago, Julien was being promoted by the Rox Saturday night as the first Brockton native to play for both the Brockton High School Boxers (the nickname is in tribute to former heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano) and for the hometown Brockton Rox.

The ceramic bobblehead is made of a polyresin substance and was designed and created for the Rox by Promotional Products LLC of St. Augustine, FL.  On Saturday, it was presented to the first 1,000 fans through the gate when the Roxers hosted the Butch Hobson-managed Nashua Pride.

 

The bobblehead measures seven inches high and depicts Julien standing on a white  home plate base holding a black bat over his right shoulder. He is wearing half a Brockton Rox uniform and half a Brockton High School baseball uniform, the two baseball outfits that he has worn  while performing in this “City of Champions.” The left side of the figure is outfitted in the tan pinstriped home uniform of the Rox with the green letter “B” affixed to the brown Rox cap. The right side of Julien’s body is outfitted in the Brockton Boxers’ white uniform with red and black trim. On the right side, Julien is shown wearing a black Boxer cap with a red “B”.

The ideas for this unique promotion was formulated over the winter by the Rox’ front-office staff during its weekly brainstorming sessions. While former Rox all-star Saul Bustos was similarly honored with a bobblehead last year, Julien becomes the first active Rox player in the franchise’s six-year existence to be honored with a bobblehead promotional night, according to Director of Promotions Bailey Frye.  

“In the off-season, we sit down and throw crazy ideas at each other and try to come up with give-aways and different theme nights,” said Frye. “The idea came up to have him in just a (Brockton) Boxers uniform, and then we decided to put a spin on it, so that it could be celebrated that he plays here (with the Rox), as well.”

The Rox are also planning a bobblehead night on July 14 for legendary Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd – who pitched for the Rox during Julien’s first season in 2005.

Late Saturday afternoon, the crowd anticipating the bobblehead giveaway began forming around 5 p.m. -- an hour before the gates opened for the 7 p.m. start against Nashua. By the time the gates opened, the line had snaked down the sidewalk and into the parking lot. “Everyone is here for Eugene,” noted one female Julien admirer. “He is so good with the kids and is such a humble person.”

After making a promotional appearance at the Brockton Boys’ and Girls’ Club earlier Saturday, Julien was in uniform and on hand outside the stadium’s main gate by 5 p.m. to welcome fans and sign autographs. He remained there until ducking inside the stadium a little before 6 p.m. in order to prepare for that night’s game.

Numerous friends and family attended Julien’s special night, a large group of his supporters filling a VIP suite and cheering for an individual who they feel has given back to the city. Brockton, also home to former middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, is the sixth-largest city in Massachusetts (pop.: 100,000) and is located 20 miles south of Boston in Plymouth County.

“Gino is very well known around here,” submitted Frye. “The fans really love the fact that he’s a hometown guy.”

After batting over .300 through the first month of the season, Julien was in the midst of a recent slump that has dropped his average to .250. The team’s starting second baseman, Julien was hitless in three official at-bats Saturday as the No. 8 hitter in the lineup, but managed to glove a harmless infield fly ball for the second out of the ninth inning, then turned a routine ground ball into the final out of the 2-1 victory over the Pride.

Through games of Sunday (June 17), the Rox stood at .500 (12-12) and were in fifth place in the 12-team Can Am League, 5 ½ games behind leader New Jersey. Last year, they were within one out of their second league title in four years, but were beaten in the final inning of the best-of-five championship series.

As a four-year starter at Eastern, the 5-foot-9 inch, 180 pound Julien played on three regional championship teams and was the starting shortstop during the 2002 NCAA Division III national championship season.  He is ranked among the program’s Top Ten all-time leaders in most every category, including first in games and at-bats, second in stolen bases, third in hits, fourth in runs, and fifth in assists.

While the work has been steady the last three summers with the Rox, the weekly paychecks don’t amount to much. To help make ends meet, Julien works during the school year as a substitute teacher in his hometown and also picks up extra cash by giving  hitting lessons during the off-season at an indoor training facility in nearby West Bridgewater. He also serves on the staff of the Rox’ youth baseball camps that are staged twice each summer.

 

While the Rox have surely benefited from Julien’s marquee value at the box office – they have already enjoyed a handful of standing-room-only sellouts – his name and local ties alone are not enough to keep him in the lineup every day. But his play has.

“We love Gino, and we love his ties to the area, but we’re still a baseball organization,” points out Frye. “Our ownership wants winning teams and championships, and the town does as well. As long as Gino is here, he’s going to be a fan favorite, and we hope he stays as long as he can, but unfortunately, there’s still that baseball part of it.”

Thus far, Julien has more than held up his end of the bargain. He entered the season ranked fifth all-time in franchise history in hits. And despite his recent batting woes, he still ranked second on the club in hits following the weekend set against Nashua, and had commited only two errors at second base.

As far as the bobblehead promotion was concerned, Julien says that he did not get a look at the actual figure until just a few hours before the start of Saturday’s game. “I had seen a picture of it, and it looked pretty cool.”

Julien, who lives with relatives across town from the ballpark, was grateful to the Rox for the unique honor. Given three of the figurines by the Rox in the lockerroom prior to the start of  Saturday’s game, Julien had one specially earmarked for his father, Gerard, who returned to the family’s native Venezuela before the younger Julien was signed by the Rox in the summer of 2005.

“My dad never got to see me play here (with the Rox)”, noted Julien “The most important thing about this is that I want to send one to him.  He left three years ago – before I started playing here. That’s the most important thing to me about this whole thing.”

Spoken like a true “hometown hero.” 

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